University City: The Dirt Factory Keeps the Neighborhood Green

Seth as he mixed the composted soil.

[vimeo 53040146]

The Dirt Factory in University City keeps tons of waste materials out of landfills thus reducing City Hall’s costs for disposal.

Located at 4300 Market St. this community composting facility closes the loop on reducing waste disposal costs by combining fallen leaves with food waste produced by neighborhood residents and businesses in this neighborhood.

Nick Stanley, a resident that uses the Factory, said he admires the location. “I think it’s great. We have been looking for a place to compost since we moved here a couple years ago.”

The Dirt Factory project, which is currently at a former vacant lot, cost the University City District around $8700 to start. This self-composed system is unique to University City. “The Compost Coop” in Kensington shares similarities with the factory. Both locations utilize earth tubs which control the temperature inside when making the nutrient rich material.

The University of Pennsylvania had earth tubs that were previously used at the school. Around the start of the Dirt Factory project Penn no longer needed the earth tubs and donated them to the University City District for the Dirt Factory project.

Green and brown materials are utilized at this facility when composting. Wood chips, leaves and saw dusts are all carbon rich brown materials. All of the brown material composted at the factory comes from the University City area. Green materials are the food waste which also comes from residents of the University City neighborhood. The finished product, or the compost, is used in University City community gardens.

A community user as he grabbed an empty bin.

University City has the highest concentration of gardens when compared to any other area in Philadelphia. The Walnut Hill community farm has raised bed planters at The Dirt Factory. This larger scaled community garden grows plants at the Dirt Factory using compost generating on site.

“They produce actual vegetables here at the Dirt Factory and then sell the produce at their farm stand,” Seth Budick said. Budick is the Manager of Policy and Research at the University City District.

Although leaf waste is collected at the Dirt Factory community users mostly drop off food waste. Each of the two earth tubs at the Dirt Factory can compost about 25 bags of leaves at a time. The University City District calculates the exact amount of leaf waste at the end of each annual fall season.

“It can be a hassle at times putting bags of leaves in my back seat but its worth it,” Dirt Factory user Katie Boynton said. “ I like bringing my food waste and leaves from my backyard to the Dirt Factory because I know they are going to a good place.”

The City of Philadelphia picks up leaf waste only if residents place the leaves in paper bags. The leaves are then taken a recycling center in Fairmount Park. “Fairmount Park processes gargantuan quantities of leaves,” Seth Budick said. “They also process trees and stuff that they get from the park.”

Fairmount Park sells the compost produced there commercially. The park’s recycling center even allows Philadelphia residents to pick up as much as 35 gallons of compost per week for free. They sell material to commercial landscapers. Selling material is one way in which Fairmount Park recovers costs.

The name for the Dirt Factory facility was crowd sourced from among 86 creative suggestions submitted by community members. The persons whose suggestion was selected, Stephen Metzger and Carina Giamerese, received 6 months of free compost pickup by the Pedal Coop. The Pedal Coop is a University City business that collects compost and commercial recycling entirely by bicycle. The Coop delivers compostable material from University City residents and businesses to the Factory’s site.

The Dirt Factory has raised the profile of composting in University City. The University City District’s general aim is to help the neighborhood attain Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s goal of diverting 70% of solid waste from landfills by 2015.

“The factory is fully self contained and portable,” Director of Community and Business Services at the University City District Steve Walsh said. “That’s the way we designed it so we can basically pick it up and move it at any time as long as we provide 3 days notice of doing so.”

Steve Walsh waiting for his staff to attend the morning meeting at the University City District.

Although the lot where the Factory is located was free of cost the University City District signed an agreement with the owner who still pays the taxes on the lot.

Walsh was heavily involved with the building aspect of the Dirt Factory. He strives to present opportunity for residents in the community. “Right now we are not looking to hire any employees or anyone to help us out,” Walsh said. “Overtime we will be looking to pick up more properties and before you know it there will be more than one Dirt Factory.”

Along with the Dirt Factory the University City District also hold community cleanups. The neighborhood encourages residents and those who are familiar with the area to step outside and clean outside their home, office, school, in a nearby park or an empty lot. Overall maintaining a sustainable clean environment is key.

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